Four Corners report highlights need for independent investigations of police related deaths

When the police shoot someone, the resulting investigation should be independent of the police force. Following an ABC Four Corners program about the police shooting of Adam Salter, Public Interest Advocacy Centre Chief Executive, Edward Santow, said there is an urgent need for independent investigators to assist Coroners when the police are involved in someone’s death.

“The current practice of leaving the police to investigate themselves must be changed. The Salter Inquest was by no means the first time Coroners have questioned the quality and independence of police investigation of police related deaths,” Mr Santow said.

Mr Santow said public confidence in investigations into police shootings and deaths in custody could only be maintained by ensuring those investigations are independent.

“Police cannot effectively investigate themselves. Australia needs an independent body to investigate any death where there’s an allegation of police involvement, or where the death occurred in custody,” Mr Santow said.

The Human Rights Law Centre’s Director of Strategic Litigation, Anna Brown, agreed.

“Imagine the outcry if employers were left with the responsibility for investigating deaths in their own workplace. The risks of corruption and collusion would be real, the investigations would lack transparency and legitimacy and there would be a decline in accountability,” Ms Brown said.

Human rights law and international best practice require that such investigations be conducted by a body that is fully independent of police.

“If we are serious about transparency and accountability, we need to ensure that these principles are upheld when our citizens are injured or killed by police,” Ms Brown said.

Independent investigations already take place in Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. Recently, the Queensland Misconduct Commission was given primary responsibility for investigation of deaths in custody.

The Four Corners episode on the investigation of police-related deaths, “Closing Ranks” can be viewed here: